Wind erosion of Mars rocks doesn’t release methane

Mars high resolution image. Mars is a planet of the solar system. Sunrise with lens flare. Elements of this image furnished by NASA.Wind erosion has been ruled out as the primary cause of methane gas release on Mars, Newcastle University academics have shown.

Methane can be produced over time through both geological and biological routes and since its first detection in the Martian atmosphere in 2003, there has been intense speculation about the source of the gas and the possibility that it could signal life on the planet.

Previous studies have suggested the methane may not be evenly distributed in the atmosphere around Mars, but instead appear in localised and very temporary pockets on the planet’s surface. And the previous discovery of methane ‘spikes’ in the Martian atmosphere has further fuelled the debate.

Now research led by Newcastle University, UK, and published in Nature Scientific Reports, has ruled out the possibility that the levels of methane detected could be produced by the wind erosion of rocks, releasing trapped methane from fluid inclusions and fractures on the planets’ surface.

Principal Investigator Dr Jon Telling, a geochemist based in the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences at Newcastle University, said, “The questions are – where is this methane coming from, and is the source biological? That’s a massive question and to get to the answer we need to rule out lots of other factors first.

“We realised one potential source of the methane that people hadn’t really looked at in any detail before was wind erosion, releasing gases trapped within rocks. High resolution imagery from orbit over the last decade have shown that winds on Mars can drive much higher local rates of sand movement, and hence potential rates of sand erosion, than previously recognised…” [More at links]

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HiRISE: Melas Chasma valleys

PSP_005452_1700Valleys in Melas Chasma. Caption throwback (2008): The interpretation is that the valleys formed by precipitation in the late Hesperian epoch and the water that formed them collected in the basin to produce a lake where sediment was deposited. This location is therefore particularly interesting to scientists because it shows water activity that resulted from rain in a relatively young region near the equator of Mars.

HiRISE Picture of the Day archive. [More at links]

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THEMIS: Jezero Crater delta landing site

Jezero Crater delta landing site (THEMIS_IOTD_20190812)THEMIS Image of the Day, August 12, 2019. At the top of today’s VIS image is a delta deposit that was created by the flow from the rim channel into the crater. Deltas form when sediments settle out due to a decrease in speed of a river system.

Deltas often form where large rivers flow into the ocean, like the Mississippi and Nile deltas. This can also occur where rivers flow into large lakes, such as the Great Salt Lake and Lake St. Clair river deltas. It is believed that the Jezero Crater delta formed this way.

The delta in Jezero Crater has been chosen as the landing site for the Mars 2020 rover mission.

Explore more THEMIS Images of the Day by geological subject.

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MarCO wins the ‘Oscar’ for tiny spacecraft

PIA22314The first briefcase-size CubeSats to journey to another planet have been honored for their role in NASA InSight’s successful Mars landing. The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) bestowed their Small Satellite Mission of the Year award to Mars Cube One, or MarCO, Aug. 8, 2019, at the annual Small Satellite Conference in Logan, Utah.

Designed and built at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, MarCO consists of two CubeSats – compact satellites made up of cube-shaped units – nicknamed WALL-E and EVE after characters in a Pixar film. With the pair flying behind NASA’s InSight lander as it cruised to the Red Planet last year for its Nov. 26, 2018, descent to the Martian surface, WALL-E and EVE enabled the InSight team to monitor the landing in near-real time by relaying signals from the lander back to Earth.

Along the way, WALL-E sent back stunning images of Mars while EVE performed some simple radio science. All of this was achieved with experimental technology that cost a fraction of what most space missions do.

“It is a significant honor to be recognized by our peers at this particular conference,” said MarCO Chief Engineer Andy Klesh of JPL. “These are the engineers crafting bold new designs to explore the solar system. We hope MarCO was a pathfinder mission for them.” [More at link]

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Latest weather at Gale Crater and Elysium Planitia

Daily Elysium charts and data (temperature, wind speed, atmospheric pressure) here.

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HiRISE: Classic crater

ESP_055017_2055Well preserved and loving it. Is there something particularly special about this nice, 2-kilometer diameter crater? Maybe not, but its simplicity, classic shape and fairly well-preserved rim speak for itself in a desolate landscape.

HiRISE Picture of the Day archive. [More at links]

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THEMIS: Lyot Crater dune field

Lyot Crater dune field (THEMIS_IOTD_20190809)THEMIS Image of the Day, August 9, 2019. Lyot Crater is a large, complex crater in the northern lowlands of Vastitas Borealis.

This image is located along the southern rim of the crater and shows part of the dune field located on the floor of the crater.

The dunes have been shaped by winds swirling around the hills and knobs on the crater’s floor.

Explore more THEMIS Images of the Day by geological subject.

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Curiosity update: A change in the weather (observations)

RLB_618457477EDR_F0763002RHAZ00341M_-br2Sols 2489-91, August 8, 2019, update by MSL scientist Claire Newman: Over the weekend, Curiosity successfully dropped off a portion of the Glen Etive drill sample. But for some reason, the sequence was interrupted, so no images of the portion were acquired. Curiosity’s Remote Sensing Mast (RSM), on which ChemCam, both Mastcams, and all four Navcams are mounted, briefly stopped pointing as commanded on sol 2488. The RSM worked well in the tests planned on sol 2489 and downlinked ahead of today’s planning, however. So while the engineers continue to diagnose the issue, such as whether it involves recent changes to the way we heat motors connected to the RSM, we used it again cautiously in the sol 2490 plan. This meant avoiding observations that require us to look up from the surface or deck, to avoid any risk of dust piling up on lenses if the RSM became stuck there.

The net result was that most of the ENV Science Theme Group’s cloud and dust monitoring activities could not be included, as all of them involve using Mastcam or Navcam to look near the horizon or higher up. In the sol 2489 plan, we included some attempted dust devil imaging using the Rear Hazcams, but in today’s plan we focused on adding extra REMS one-hour extended blocks to measure air and ground temperature, pressure, humidity, and UV radiation. This should result in us measuring over 37 of the 48 Mars hours contained in this two-sol plan, compared to the 13 hours we’d have measured usually, including seven periods with 5 hours of continuous REMS. Long periods of continuous atmospheric data are useful for tracking weather patterns, atmospheric wave activity, and even clouds that we can detect in the REMS UV and ground temperature data after sunset. The ENV group also planned DAN active and RAD observations… [More at link]

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Mars Express: Dark meets light in Terra Cimmeria

Perspective_view_of_Terra_CimmeriaESA’s Mars Express has captured the cosmic contrast of Terra Cimmeria, a region in the southern highlands of Mars marked by impact craters, water-carved valleys, and sand and dust in numerous chocolate and caramel hues.

Mars is often referred to as the Red Planet, due to the characteristic hue of its orb in the sky. Up close, however, the planet is actually covered in all manner of colours – from bright whites and dark blacks to yellows, reds, greens, and the cappuccino tones seen here.

These differences in colour are visible from telescopes on Earth. They are undeniably visually striking, but also reveal a significant amount about the composition and properties of the surface material itself.

These views based on Mars Express data are a great example of the diversity found on the martian surface: the darker regions towards the right (north) in the image at the top of this page are rich in minerals of volcanic origin, the most common of which found on Mars is basalt. The lighter patches to the left (south) are instead largely covered in fine silicate dust… [More at link]

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MAVEN: Solar conjunction coming

77_20061020_SolarConjunctionThe MAVEN operations and navigation teams are preparing for Mars solar conjunction, when the Sun is lined up almost directly between Earth and Mars:

This year, Mars solar conjunction will happen between Aug. 28 – Sept. 7. Due to an increased risk of corruption to radio transmissions between Earth and Mars during conjunction, NASA places a moratorium on sending commands to Mars spacecraft during this time.

MAVEN status update:
MAVEN currently has a periapsis altitude (closest point to Mars in its orbit) of 152 km and an apoapsis altitude (farthest from Mars) of 4,495 km. The orbital period of the spacecraft is 3 hours 39 minutes and the distance from Earth to MAVEN is 2.66 AU (398 million km or 247 million miles). One way light time to the spacecraft is ~22 minutes. [More at links]

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